Updated: Jun 1
Did you know that May is Mental Health month in Canada? During this month, Canadians can learn about mental illnesses and how they affect people's lives in different ways.
For myself Mental Health contributed significantly in a negative way during my early and formative years. I grew up in what seemingly was a typical southern-Ontario household in the 60s and 70s. However, behind the “normal” exterior was a different dynamic.
My mother was diagnosed as a young adult with what is known today as Bipolar Disorder. During my childhood to young adulthood this manifested in physical and verbal abuse, abandonment, and insecurity. “Home” was not a safe place and was filled with fear and dread. In that era, no one spoke of the mental health struggles, especially the ones my mother faced, nor their subsequent substantial impact on my father, siblings, and me.
Fortunately, as I moved into young adulthood, the “secrets” of our family became known and “normalized” and I was able to get the help I needed to not only survive but to overcome and thrive.
When I came to work at Ottawa Innercity Ministries, I realized how many of our street friends, whether adult, youth, or veterans, struggled with some form of Mental Illness. My past has given me great empathy to their situation; however, so many of our friends from the street are not getting the help that I received.
The Canadian Mental Health Association tells us that,” While many factors can lead to homelessness, mental health plays a significant role—an estimated 25 to 50 per cent of homeless people live with a mental health condition.”
The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness shares that “The stress of experiencing homelessness may exacerbate previous mental illness and encourage anxiety, fear, depression, sleeplessness and substance use…People with mental illness experience homelessness for longer periods of time and have less contact with family and friends.”
Thankfully at OIM, our passionate and well-trained volunteers and staff are meeting many of the needs of our street friends who are experiencing mental illness. We provide necessary food and clothing but more importantly a safe and welcoming space and place. We offer companionship to their loneliness and through repeated contact have built relationships that are often missing in their lives. As needed, we also refer our street friends to the few programs available that will help them with their mental illness and homeless issues.
Ending the stigma around mental illness and providing greater access to mental health resources is critical to reducing homelessness in Ottawa. OIM is always looking for caring individuals to support our work. If you want more information on how to help us make a difference, connect with us today.
~Cam – Manager, Community Engagement